As a response to the Black Lives Matter protests, many have called for people to vote, not protest. Voting is one of the most surefire ways to enact change, and those who can vote should do so. But it is not an option for many minorities, especially Black people, who are disproportionately impacted by voting laws and systems.
Once people are registered to vote, which is already an overly-complicated process, their next task is to actually vote. But that is much easier said than done. Election Day is not a federal holiday or held during the weekend, so voters need to take time off from their work to go vote. Many workers cannot afford to leave their jobs to go to a polling place, and the costs of voting are even higher for minorities and low-income groups. Black Americans are paid less than White Americans at every educational level and need to pay a higher price to exercise a basic right should they have to leave work to vote.
At its core, the current voting system is racist. Protesting is the only other form of resisting and being heard by lawmakers when the right to vote is ignored, and marginalized communities should not be told otherwise. Eligible voters have a responsibility to vote for the rights of the oppressed – otherwise, they are pawns in an oppressive system they have no control over.
Many have suggested mail-in ballots as a way to ensure everyone can vote. While all states offer absentee ballots, 17 states still require people to provide an excuse to mail in their ballots. Some of those states do not allow work as a valid excuse, so workers still might not be able to cast their ballot. Even when people are able to opt in to absentee voting, many do not receive their ballots, and if they do, they are sometimes rejected at the ballot box because of issues with their signatures. Absentee voting systems do not guarantee that everyone can cast their ballots.
Even if people are able to make it to the polls, they still face struggles that are exacerbated for Black communities. There are fewer polling places available in majority-minority communities across the country, which makes it more difficult for minorities to find a ballot box. These problems are worsened by other barriers, like untrained poll workers and long lines, evident in the recent Georgia primary election. In fact, there were significantly more reports of polling issues in predominantly Black areas compared to predominantly White areas.
Strict voter ID laws across the country target minorities because they are less likely to be able to afford or acquire the documents needed to obtain an ID. Nearly a quarter of Black citizens do not have the photo IDs that they require to be able to exercise their right to vote, according to the ACLU. Beyond the law itself, its implementation is also discriminatory, with minorities being asked to show their IDs more often than White people. Obstacles are intentionally placed in the paths of racial and ethnic minorities to restrict their right to vote.
Even when minorities are able to cast a ballot, the Electoral College lessens the impact of their vote. The votes in battleground states have the most weight because of this system, but most of those states are majority White. In contrast, non-battleground states like New York and Alabama are more diverse. Individual votes in non-battleground states matter less, because the popular vote is not taken into account. The Electoral College sends the message that Black voices do not matter as much as White ones.
People should be encouraged to vote, but it is ignorant to think that everyone has that ability. Many protests take place because the people protesting are disadvantaged by the voting process. It is inappropriate to tell the oppressed to stop protesting and just vote, when that is not a true option for many of them. They protest because it is all they can do to demand change. They protest because it is not a choice for them – it is a necessity.
These barriers to voting for minorities, and especially Black people, are not coincidences. They are intentional acts to take away their voices. Voting is a false solution for the oppressed because the voting system is pitted against them, making it nearly impossible for them to cast their ballots. Those who can vote must usher in a better voting system – one that actually allows Black voices to be amplified as much as White ones.
Laya Reddy, a rising sophomore majoring in political science and music, is a columnist.
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